Friday, October 26, 2007
Flashback: LBJ Chosen as JFKs Veep Gets Hubert to Calm Angry Liberals Hubert Doesnt Have Enough Money to Get Out of Town Everybody Plays the It Might Have Been Game. And Gene Goes to St. Johns to Brood and be Embittered about the Kennedys.
[Fifty years of politics written as a memoir for my kids and grandchildren],
Hubert thought the worst was over after John Kennedy was nominated for president in Los Angeles and Lyndon Johnson picked for vice president. Now Hubert could go home and try to raise money for reelectionfacing a tough opponent who was just a few points under him in the very accurate Minnesota Poll. But how to get out of town if you dont have enough money in your jeans to pay the Hilton hotel suite, the food ordered in, the liquor and other expenses? The bill waiting for him at the front desk totaled $3,500. Humphrey turned to his fund-raiser Bill OConnor, shrugged and pulled his pockets inside out indicating the cupboard was bare. OConnor had a Carte Blanche credit card which had a $400 limit. OConnor handed it in to the desk and ordered a cab for both of them while Humphrey scanned the paper. OConnor was hoping that the desk wouldnt say: Mr. OConnor theres a $400 limit on this and the bill is $3,500. If the desk had said this, OConnor couldnt have left. Luckily the desk accepted the card and they made their getaway.
Before Humphrey and OConnor could get in the cab a bellman ran up to them. Oh-oh, thought OConnor, hes coming from the desk which has found out the $400 limit on my card. No, it was an urgent call on the phone in the lobby for Hubert. It was LBJ imploring Humphrey to do him a favor: convince the angered liberals that JFK hadnt sold them out by picking Johnson. So Humphrey and OConnor stayed for a while as Hubert went delegation-by-delegation babbling that Lyndon wouldnt betray liberalism even though he had had a generally conservative voting record. He performed very well and finally he and OConnor were able to get out of L.A. for Minnesota (Muriel had gone on ahead).
Afterward Hubert tortured OConnor with groans that he was certain he had lost favor with Kennedy for many reasons: his refusal to bow out of the West Virginia primary, his chewing out FDR Jr.but most of all his refusal to allow the Minnesota delegation to swing over to Kennedy but saw that it cast its 31 votes for Hubert who wasnt running.
Humphrey wailed that his career was now at a prestige slump since the Democratic nominee was obviously upset. This time OConnor couldnt take it anymore.
OConnor decided he needed a rest from Hubert in order to preserve his sanity and so he detoured from Humphrey at the airport and on a whim caught a plane to Las Vegasto relax, drink a few adult beverages and play some golf. He was at his Las Vegas hotel the next morning when Carte Blanche called and asked him to hold on to speak to its auditor.
OConnor said: oh-oh, here it comes.
The auditor said: Mr. OConnor, did you sign a $3,500 bill for Sen. Humphrey at the Statler Hilton yesterday?
OConnor, resignedly: Yes.
Response: Oh, thats fine. We just wanted to make sure because it was a large amount.
God, said OConnor, will I ever recover from the onslaught of nerves this guy Humphrey has put me through?
He slept in the next day, got up, ate, played golf in the sun and sat down in the lobby bar and consumed a great deal of bubbly. Then he went out and gambled, saw a saucy stage show and came back to his room. I am, he felt, finally getting over these jangled nerves.
Then the phone rang.
It was---Hubert! Calling from Minnesota.
Bill, get hold of Herbie [Waters, Huberts campaign manager and Senate administrative assistant]. Jacks been in touch.
Jack who? asked OConnor.
Jack WHO? Jack Kennedy! He wants us to set up a farm rally in Des Moines. I want you and Herbie to get down there right away. Were back in this ballgame!
Hubert was walking on air: he received a personal call from JFK who brushed off the Minnesota non-vote for him. LBJ was convincing JFK that Huberts value was goldenso he was ecstatic.
So OConnor had to go back to work. Next stop: Des Moines.
Hubert got hold of Gene McCarthy and convinced him he should campaign for JFK so that they didnt get the onus of being bad losers. McCarthy agreed and actually did travel a bit for JFK although under his breath he wasnt doing the nominee much good.
Hanging around L. A., drinking a bit while Jane chafed, Orville Freeman was sorely wounded. The Minnesota governor had been drawn into the Kennedy headquarters and told the truthwhich was startling enough. He was told that Lyndon Johnson would be asked first to run for vice president. Bobby said he was sure LBJ wouldnt do itand if he wouldnt, the next choice was Freeman. Well, LBJ took it and Freeman had to traipse back to Minnesota where his polling numbers were awful and face a very good opponent in the Republican state senator and multi-millionaire Elmer L. Andersen.
Freeman lost to Andersen. He went to Washington as JFKs agriculture secretary. Later and throughout his life until he came down with Alzheimers in his early 70s he was tortured by thinking that had he been picked for veep and Kennedy had been assassinated, heFreemanwould be the president. He almost went batty thinking about it in old age until Jane told him to kick itforget it and get a life.
As for Gene McCarthy, he caught a plane to Minnesota and took a few days off, ending up at St. Johns, the monastery, where he crashed and shared a few bitter memories with Fr. Godfrey Diekmann OSB. He talked Godfrey out of being a JFK fan but, of course, Godfrey would have no one else to vote for.
Your time is coming, said Godfrey and they both consumed some the beer made at the Abbey brewery.
Gene brooded and made some subliminal wisecracks.
But let us focus. This story isnt about the other playersOConnor who got soused and Orville Freeman with his diminishing popularity. No its about the relationship and contrast between Hubert Humphrey and Gene McCarthy.
Hubert didnt know it at the time but Gene did.
The convention of 1960 marked the formal end of any serious future collaboration between Hubert and Gene McCarthy. Hubert couldnt have imagined it because he was fundamentally a simple, ego-obsessed character without any residual bitterness. While McCarthy was an ego-obsessed character with a huge residual of brine and bitterness. A dark Irishman.
From that time on, their relationship would disintegrate until they would become scorpions in a bottle that would affect U. S. history.
How that disintegration evolved, next time.